Jim Harris: Hog Fans Shouldn’t Live Up to Travis’ ‘Dumb’ Assessment


hog fans

Nashville, Tenn.-based “columnist” Clay Travis painted an ugly picture earlier this week of the Arkansas Razorback fan. Then a few so-called Hog fans went on sports-talk radio to prove it.

One almost hopes some of these calls were “plants” by these shows to get the controversy cranked up. But, no, these callers were serious.

The worst was the fellow who called in to Trey Schaap’s and Matt Jones’ mid-afternoon show on KABZ-FM, 103.7, frustrated that Arkansas and new head coach Bret Bielema weren’t passing enough to suit his tastes. Why, he said, he’s paid way too much money to have to sit there and watch the Hogs run off tackle over and over in the fourth quarter.

Never mind that two running backs, Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, both rushed for more than 100 yards for the third straight week, and Collins became the first back in Southeastern Conference history to crack 100 yards in each of his first three games as a freshman. Never mind, too, that Arkansas is 3-0 and looking to go 4-0 for only the 19th time in past 60 years.

Here we go again with some fans and the Razorbacks, it seems.

To a certain segment of fans — and we hope it’s only a small but vocal representation — the Razorbacks either pass too much and don’t have a running game, as we heard in or about the fourth week of each season in the Bobby Petrino era, or the Hogs run it too much and don’t have a passing game, the way some fans complained about the offense under Ken Hatfield, Danny Ford, Houston Nutt, etc.

I remember a close family friend always referring to Frank Broyles as “Up the Middle” Frank. Arkansas never had a run of extended success quite like what Broyles managed, though.

Winning football is accomplished by sound defense, a good kicking game and control of the line of scrimmage with a strong running game and the avoidance of turnovers. Why is this so accepted and embraced by the fan bases at Alabama and LSU, where people wait years to get on the season ticket list, while at Arkansas many fans don’t find this kind of game exciting enough? Are those Tide and Tiger fans simply smarter?

Apparently, some Hog followers would rather Arkansas wing the ball around willy-nilly and maybe hold on to beat the likes of Southern Miss and Samford, instead of taking advantage of its strength and wearing the lesser opposition down.

They would rather Arkansas bring back Paul Petrino for play-calling — perhaps three incompletions in three downs by the backup quarterback, sending the defense back on the field after a 16-second rest. That exact scenario probably led to one of Arkansas’ most humiliating losses in its history, a 34-31 overtime setback against Louisiana-Monroe that helped derail the John L. Smith error in 2012.

Of course the Hogs’ previous coach, Bobby Petrino, a pass-game play-calling genius, would have done what any other Arkansas coach who won many more than he lost would have done: As he said so many times, after he had passed for the lead, he would then pound it behind his running backs in the second half.

But Joe Dumbfan would watch all that running and scream, “Pass the ball! I paid too much money to watch you run it!”

No one seems to get the simple fact that former NFL player and coach Herm Edwards so aptly noted: You play to win the game. Coaches aren’t being paid $3.2 million to lose while they keep you entertained. Wouldn’t it be so nice if you could throw it all around the ballpark and still win them all, but that’s not how football works. Throw it around and make a mistake with the lead, and you’ve got a good chance of losing. I’ve seen plenty of opponents over the years — Baylor in particular countless times, and TCU for another —  let Arkansas back in the game because they just couldn’t go conservative while in command of the game.

The Arkansas Razorbacks  had a nice thing going in the 1980s with head coach Ken Hatfield. The Hogs won at what still is the school’s all-time best clip, 76 percent. They won 20 games over Hatfield’s last two seasons here. But there was this low rumble that gradually grew louder, that Arkansas wasn’t playing the way Miami and Florida State were playing and that somehow 10 wins a year here was dull. Never mind that the players who electrified the Miami and Florida State offenses and defenses were suddenly in great abundance around Miami and throughout Florida but were in much smaller number in these parts.

After Hatfield left for Clemson, where the fan base appreciated option-running football, Arkansas had one winning season in the next eight. It  doesn’t appear the program ever fully recovered from losing its national brand during those years.

I love how Bret Bielema approaches the game, which is based exactly on the principles Arkansas was using under its biggest run of success.

Arkansas will pass the football under Bielema. The Hogs were probably as balanced as they could possibly be in the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, throwing for 230 yards while running for 292. Arkansas called for 24 passes and threw 23, completing 15, while running 51 times. The Hogs averaged 7.1 yards per play.

Arkansas didn’t have to show many offensive wrinkles to win these last two, but the Hogs had to survive last week with a backup quarterback who had not taken an offensive snap had thrown just six passes, completing three, in Division I football (at Iowa in 2011) before his first appearance as a Razorback. That backup turned starter, A.J. Derby, will have taken nearly all the practice snaps this week, and Arkansas will spring some plays they’ve been hiding on Saturday in Piscataway, N.J. against Rutgers. Rest assured Derby will pass more than once on first down this Saturday.

But the coaching staff would be flat-out dumb to get away from giving the ball to the few offensive thoroughbreds they have: Collins, Williams and Keiro Small. Those guys make it easier for average-speed receivers to get better separation on the play-action pass calls.

They’d also be dumb to put this defense on the field for much more than it typically has had to play in the first three games. Arkansas is giving up less than 300 yards a game, but the Hogs didn’t all of a sudden recruit an entirely new defense to take over from the holdovers of last year.

Clay Travis said in a radio interview he was being sarcastic in his column about Arkansas’ fans, though he seemed spot on in some of his clever assessments. But he also assailed the Arkansan in general by noting the low college graduation rate of residents. Clay Travis apparently fancies himself the southern version of H.L Mencken as a sports columnist. His shtick is to stir up national online readers and get them reading, to entertain them, and if Arkansans are ticked-off, who cares?

The typical Arkansas Razorback fan is better described, I believe, as passionate to the extreme, and still a bit naïve when it comes to the SEC, its history and the other fan bases, even after 21 years as an SEC program. Yes, as Travis noted, some Arkansas fans believe the Hogs should be national title contenders every year and that all the best players in the country are at the UA’s beck and call if only the coaches would just go recruit them.

That’s true with many big-time college fan bases. Lord knows Alabama and  LSU have their crazies and then some. But Alabama and LSU’s fans actually get to live the dream. Still, none of them are screaming for Nick Saban or Les Miles to start passing the football when they are holding onto the lead in the fourth quarter.

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